No Burning Up / No Burning Away

He touches you.
You are too young to have words for it,
so you don’t say anything.
You trace the dragons in your storybook
with the chewed side of your thumb
over and over, around and around.
How to be eight and make your mouth say
someone is packing darkness behind your ribs,
moving your lungs to make room,
filling every inch of it
— no —
easier to laugh; or close your eyes;
or step sideways out of your mother’s photographs.
You’re thirteen and start to play pretend with yourself.
Maybe you asked for it.
Maybe your body moved against all reason.
Maybe your throat was tempting swan songs
that men would kill to hear the words of.
You cannot find a way to tell the people who love you
that it is easier to accept the blame than to admit
you were helpless;
inert flesh he bent and bruised with heavy hands.
It is years later.
You are twenty.
Twenty-two. Twenty-four.
You are writing a poem about it.
You have the words you didn’t then and a heart
whole enough to say them; to tell everyone
you burned so bright for so long
that you forgot fire was made for more than death,
but you are almost twenty-seven
and that same fire you thought would kill you
still keeps you warm.


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